Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Getting the Dirt on Compost

Taking a soil workshop with Doug Weatherbee, The Soil Doctor, I have had many conversations with people about compost and for every discussion, there seems to be just as many interpretations of what compost is and how to make it as there are people upon this earth.

I must confess that I truly had no idea why I signed up for a 4 day workshop with The Soil Doctor other than I liked the title of the workshop called "4 Days of Dirty Tricks and Dirty Secrets with the Soil Doctor" and the hosts were my friends Rob and Michelle Avis with Verge Permaculture. After signing up I had many people ask "What the heck are you going to talk about in 4 days about dirt?" Good question.

The first thing I learnt is that dirt is the grime that lays beneath your fingernails and soil, on the other hand holds 90% of our biodiversity...imagine that! 90% of our world lives beneath our feet; a vast unseen world with a multitude of organisms recycling nutrients and enhancing plant health, storing and purifying water, providing antibiotics and preventing erosion, and even mitigating climate change. And although these benefits are largely invisible to us, we benefit from them more than we could ever know. They are of vital importance to our world.

So, when you start talking about compost, you really need to start talking about microbes and their role in the health of our soil and in our own health - cause yes, we are all connected.

Prior to taking my Permaculture Certification I did not like bugs very much nor did I like weeds but I have since discovered that the world around us has a much better design system in place than I ever gave it credit for. There are patterns everywhere; all things are connected and when you are looking at your land, everything has a story to tell. If you are willing to take the time to listen and observe, you could learn a lot about the health of your soil, and the plants that are growing on your land including all of those pesky "weeds" - they all have a story to tell about your soil.

Soil biodiversity is an all-too-often neglected element in the larger biodiversity picture. Healthy soil depends on the vibrant range of life that lives below the ground, from bacteria and fungi to tiny insects and earthworms. Together, this rich biodiversity brings immeasurable benefits for life on Earth.

Soil biodiversity is a central part of our natural systems. But it is also under ever increasing pressure from human activities. For this reason, we need to start treating soil as a priority in our thinking about sustainability and regenerative systems.

Healthy soils are essential for sustainable agriculture and forestry. The diversity of our soils is shown by the wonderful range of biodiversity on display above ground. This means that if we do not care for soil, we put an even greater strain on our biodiversity, and ultimately on our own ability to sustain life.

Modern Day Agricultural Practices - We are Killing the soil and just like the banking system, the withdrawals have far outweighed the deposits. Our Soil is in Crisis

Tilling is Killing the soil - this practice has dominated our agricultural practice for hundreds of years and has been the ruin of many fertile deltas around the world. When we till the soil, we expose billions of microbes to oxygen and in a world where oxygen is death well, it's mass murder . Irrigation causes the earth to become salty, this is called salination and this in combination with tilling has caused more than one delta to become a desert over the ages. 

We lose 87 Billion tons of topsoil each and every year due to our mechanical agricultural practices

The Pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed onto the mono-crops are bio-cides which are contributing, on a massive scale, to the death of all remaining microbiology that is living in the soil. What is worse, or makes the whole system that much more dire is that these bio-cides don't remain on the land where they are sprayed but follow along our waterways and flow into our watersheds carrying with them their ability to kill biology indiscriminately.

Growing up I never heard of anyone who was Celiac or Gluten intolerant; I met one person when I was 16 who had Diabetes and we never had one student in my entire 12 years at school who had a peanut allergy. What has changed? Our Food!...our agricultural practices lie at the root of most of these health problems.

What is the connection between the soil food web and us? What happens to our gut flora when our food is no longer being grown with the benefit of the soil food web? Take away the diversity, take away the soil microbiology and what is happening to our food? to us?

You got it, we are all connected on this planet; every living thing on this earth right down to the most microscopic entity has a connection to us. When you grow food in a system bereft of this microbiology, you produce food that we can no longer digest healthfully.

The soil food web is a symbiotic relationship between the microbes in the soil and the roots of the plants. When a plant has the benefit of this healthy, nutrient rich environment it then contains all of the elements that our bodies require to digest and process this food.

In our modern agricultural system there is little to no microbial activity. These are the fields where our grain is grown; our wheat, corn, soy. Mile upon mile of mono-crops growing in this vacuous land. Is it any wonder that we, along with the cows, sheep, chickens are losing the ability to digest our food properly and that the quality of this food has dropped by 75%?

Genetically modified crops utilize massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides effectively killing off all healthy microbial activity in the soil. With Mono-crops you get miles and miles of one crop (hence the name mono-crop) eliminating the diversity in our systems. Life does not do well in a vacuum!

In Permaculture, our focus is building and regenerating our soil. When we look at a forest, we see that no one needs to rake a forest floor; rototilling is never necessary in a forest to prepare the land for the new seedlings; water, no one waters the forest, it is a self regenerating system; our food systems can be designed to mimic these forests by using the same methodology utilized by nature.

Compost can heal the Earth

It is imperative that we as a civilization act now and begin healing our land and rebuilding our soil. We have already lost billions of tons of topsoil worldwide but through permaculture practices and principals laid out by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and mimicking nature, we have the means to rebuild soil. Every great Civilization throughout history has fallen before us due to soil collapse. We need not repeat history again.

Soil Sista
Genesis Permaculture

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